Of Sea and Stone
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EXCERPT – The Floating Gardens
In this excerpt, Aemi is scheming to access to a map of the city to better help her plan her escape. She talks her mistress, Lyssia, into exploring the floating gardens with her under the guise of finding a young man named Cal whom Lyssia likes.
The gardens were at the top of the city, nearest to the sunlight that filtered through the vast expanse of blue water above our heads. We took a lift enclosed in a gilded chute, and my stomach knotted with anticipation as the city fell away around us.
The lift came to a shuddering stop, and the door opened. Lyssia grinned at me. “You’re going to like this.”
We stepped onto a platform surrounded by a smooth, rounded bubble of glass. The floor was glittering metal set with lights in the floor. Ramps led away in six different directions, some of them curling overhead, others leading straight away from us.
“Each ramp takes us to a different garden sphere,” Lyssia explained. “Cal could be in any of them. You said we should try Verdus?”
I nodded. The platform had captured my attention. Verdus’s ramp spiraled up to high above the platform, entering a tunnel of glass that gave views of the sea on all sides, even beneath our feet. As we reached the top, the sound of trickling water filled my ears.
“Here we are,” Lyssia said. “The garden sphere of Verdus.”
A glass sphere enclosed the garden, and lush green vegetation trailed up and down a forest of columns that reached to the top of the glass bubble. A sign next to the entrance informed us that Verdus was built amid a forest of kelp, an underwater plant that grew in tall, straight lines, and these columns were meant to mimic that in design. Pathways wove between the columns, some winding around them to take visitors to the top of the garden. Sunlight filtered through the ocean above and danced over everything in shivery bands of gold, mingling with spotlights that illuminated the columns in soft colors of blue and green. With the fish swimming past outside, I could almost believe we were underwater too.
“Where did these plants come from?” I asked as I turned a circle. “Aren’t they from the surface?”
“Our ancestors brought plants below with them when the world burned, saving thousands of varieties from extinction in gardens such as these,” Lyssia said. “My father could tell you more about it, I’m sure.”
We wandered through the paths, looking for Cal. At least, Lyssia looked, while I read every sign in search of information. But the beauty of the garden threatened to distract me from my mission. Sculptures of fish and otters were displayed among the vegetation, gleaming statues of gold and silver metals created in playful designs, and benches made to look like sea stones were tucked between columns. It was beautiful, a masterpiece.
“Let’s go up to the top,” Lyssia suggested, gesturing at the highest pathway that rose to the highest part of the garden sphere. “It’s the highest point in the whole city. We’ll be able to see better.”
I followed her up one of the winding pathways, scanning the surrounding area for any sign of the map the device from Merelus’s study had mentioned. When we reached the top, though, I forgot why I’d come.
The sunlight felt so close here, and it was almost like being in a cave by the sea, with light reflected from the water dancing on the rocks. I shut my eyes and pressed my hands to the glass. I could almost dredge up a dream of the Village of the Rocks, except for the fact that no wind stirred my hair and no scent of fresh seawater met my nose. Instead, I felt the faint mist from the waterfalls that trickled down the sides of some of the columns, and smelled the scent of green growing things mixed with the aroma of Lyssia’s perfume.
“Help me look for Cal,” Lyssia said, and the daydream was broken. I lowered my hands and turned to peer over the rail.
“He may not be here,” she murmured. “He may be in another garden, or not here at all.”
A glimmer of light caught my eye. Below, in the center of the garden sphere. “What’s that?” I demanded, leaning over the rail.
Lyssia looked. “Oh, that’s a map of Verdus. All the gardens have one for their city.”
“I would like to see it,” I said, trying to contain my eagerness.
We descended the ramp that led to the center of the Verdus garden. There, set atop a slab of green stone, hovered the glowing map of the city.